More Americans than forecast filed for unemployment benefits last week, a possible sign the pace of improvement in the labor market has cooled.
Jobless claims increased by 21,000 to 313,000 in the week ended Nov. 22, the highest since early September, from 292,000 in the prior period, the Labor Department reported Nov. 26. It would take several weeks of sustained elevated readings to confirm the labor market has taken a step back.
It is particularly difficult to adjust the data during the holiday season, suggesting there should be no rush to judgment, Thomas Simons, an economist at Jefferies in New York, said in a research note.
The median forecast of 48 economists surveyed by Bloomberg called for a decline to 288,000, with estimates ranging from 280,000 to 300,000. The prior week’s claims were revised from an initial reading of 291,000.
The number of people continuing to receive jobless benefits dropped by 17,000 to 2.32 million in the week ended Nov. 15, the fewest since December 2000.
In that same period, the unemployment rate among people eligible for benefits fell to 1.7%, the lowest since November 2000, from 1.8% the prior week, the report showed.
Initial jobless claims reflect weekly firings and typically decrease before job growth can accelerate.